The blind can see right through Daredevil, Marvel Comics' — and the box office's — "Man Without Fear," and they're not afraid to say so.
Daredevil — a New York lawyer named Matt Murdock by day, Hell's Kitchen crimefighter by night — became comic books' first blind superhero when Stan Lee introduced him in 1964. And he has now become the first blind superhero to have a hit movie, which topped the box office in its first two weeks of release.
Some advocates are happy to see a blind superhero come to the big screen and believe Daredevil is a generally positive portrayal of the blind and visually impaired. But they also have one important message: Blind people do not need super powers to be self-sufficient and lead normal lives.
"You tend to get this 'superhero' portrayal. This 'look at what they've done' over and over again, when in reality, there are lots of blind people out there doing lots of things," said Brent Hopkins, communications specialist for the American Foundation for the Blind. "They are normal people who enjoy everyday, normal things. … To live with a disability, you don't have to be a superhero."
Some of the concerns expressed by blind advocates over Daredevil mirror the complaints of ethnic groups and groups with various disabilities or conditions that feel unrepresented or stereotyped in television and film.
Kingpin, NBC's recent miniseries about a Mexican drug cartel, outraged several Hispanic groups. The movie Kangaroo Jack upset the Epilepsy Foundation with some references to epileptics. In 2001, the Immune Deficiency Foundation urged Disney, parent company of Touchstone Pictures (and ABCNEWS) , not to release the comedy Bubble Boy because of its depiction of a person born with a rare immune deficiency disease.
"Whenever you're a member of a certain ethnic group or gender or whatever group that isn't normally seen on television or in film, any single depiction carries all this weight," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
"One of the big problems with Amos-n-Andy when it first came on television [in the 1950s] was that that was pretty much it," he said. "That was pretty much the only experience many people had of African-Americans. No one complains that Homer Simpson is a white European-American who is stupid and overweight because there are a number of other portrayals out there where you have them as heroes, doctors and everything you can think of."
From Mr. Van Ranseleer to Geordi
Major blind characters have been few and far between in film and television. Last year, Emily Watson played the shy, blind love interest of a serial killer who nearly made her one of his victims in the movie Red Dragon, the prequel to Silence of the Lambs. Perhaps the most realistic portrayal of a blind person was Al Pacino's Oscar-winning performance in 1992's Scent of a Woman.
On television, Jake (Alex Desert), the blind owner of a local newsstand, is one of the most popular characters on CBS' Becker. Star Trek: The Next Generation featured LeVar Burton as Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge, who flew the starship Enterprise with the help of a high-tech visor he wore and electronic implants. The 1971 series Longstreet focused on a blind detective played by actor/producer James Franciscus, while Bill Quinn provided wit and wisdom as the blind, elderly bar patron Mr. Van Ranseleer on Archie Bunker's Place in the late 1970s and early 1980s.